Saturday, September 01, 2012

Pats Camp Preview

Found on Greg Harder's Blog (right here).


Pats Camp Preview

General manager Chad Lang can’t be certain how the Regina Pats will take shape over the course of training camp, but he is positive about one thing.

“We want to improve and build on the success we had last year,” said Lang, whose team snapped a three-year playoff drought and posted its first winning record (37-27-6-2) since 2007-08. “The message to our returning guys is … ‘Don’t take your positions for granted because, if you don’t do the work, there’s going to be someone who has and is going to have the opportunity to take your spot.”

GOALTENDERS

The Pats appear to be set between the pipes with the return of Matt Hewitt and Adam Beukeboom, but looks can be deceiving.

Despite a stellar first season as Regina’s go-to guy, Hewitt isn’t necessarily safe due to the fact that he’s one of six players vying for three 20-year-old spots. That could create an opening for Beukeboom, 18, who showed flashes of starter’s potential in limited action last season.

The Pats believe they have two more goaltenders who are capable of stepping into the lineup: Teagan Sacher, 18, and Tanner Burgardt, 17. Sacher was in the thick of the backup race last year before Beukeboom won the job in a photo finish. Sacher is back for more after a solid campaign in the Manitoba junior A ranks, posting a 14-6-0 record, with a 2.91 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

Burgardt, meanwhile, is regarded as a potential starter of the future. He showed why in his first season at the midget AAA level, going 20-2-1 with a 2.10 GAA, .907 SP and three shutouts.

“We’re probably in a better situation than we were even last year,” noted Lang. “All four guys have a legit opportunity.”

The Pats are also high on 16-year-old prospects Nathan Churchill (who isn’t in camp) and Patrick Gora. With that kind of depth between the pipes, the Pats could find themselves in a position of strength if they chose to make a deal to shore up another area of need.

DEFENCEMEN

Speaking of a huge hole to fill, the Pats said goodbye to three of their top five defencemen from last season: Brandon Davidson, Martin Marincin and Artem Bidlevskii. A fourth member of that group, Colton Jobke, might also graduate to the pros.

That would leave Brandon Underwood, Luke Fenske, Kyle Burroughs and part-timer Nathan Zimbaluk as the lone returnees.

“It’s going to be one of the biggest battles through camp and the pre-season,” said Lang. “We believe we have depth on our back end (with quality young players). It’s just making sure it’s the right time for them and we can put them in the right situations where they have the opportunity to have success and build confidence rather than put them in a situation (they’re not ready for). That’s when it usually goes sideways.”

The rookie class is led by Colby Williams, 17, along with Sean Whelan, 18, and Griffin Mumby, 16. Mumby is the top prospect from a deep group of 16-year-olds which also includes Chase Harrison, Nikolas Koberstein, Kenny Nordstrom and Erik Donald.

Joining the fray is a collection of free agents led by 19-year-old Cole Hamblin, a 6-foot-3, 238-pound bruiser who spent parts of the past two seasons with the Spokane Chiefs.

FORWARDS

The Pats are facing significant turnover up front with the potential for just seven returnees. That number doesn’t include import Emil Sylvegard, a QMJHL veteran, but it still leaves a number of openings to be filled by a mixture of rookie draft picks, free-agent pickups and WHL castoffs.

Top prospect Adam Brooks is the leading 16-year-old candidate to make the jump, followed by his former minor hockey linemate, Dane Schioler, and fellow second-round pick Bryar Ortynski.

Rather than rush all three into the lineup, the Pats are expected to explore more seasoned options like Ty McLean and Connor Gay, a pair of 17-year-olds who were among the top scorers in the Saskatchewan midget AAA ranks last season. The small but scrappy McLean has been touted as a potential fan favourite since he was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 bantam draft. Gay is among the Pats’ most promising list pickups, joined by the likes of Patrick D’Amico (Manitoba junior A), Tristan Reimer (Alberta midget AAA), Henry Hardarson (Phoenix under-18) and Braden Christoffer (Alberta junior A).

The Pats have also invited a handful of players to camp who have previous WHL experience, including Matt Hughesman, 18, Cody Nelson, 18, and Austin Daae, 19. Hughesman and Nelson both spent most of last season in the Manitoba junior A ranks while Daae played for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars.

“We believe we have a good nucleus up front,” said Lang. “Yet we strongly believe there are guys in those younger age groups who are going to have opportunities to compete for spots and maybe challenge some of our older guys.”

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